You Never Know What You’ll Find When . . .

by Miss Footloose

. . . you go to check up on the house back home.

You get on a plane. You’re an expat living in a foreign country many time zones away from the house you own in another country. You’ve not been in your house for 6 months and it’s standing empty.

If you’re an expat spouse no doubt you know what this means. Let’s say you live in Moldova or Uzbekistan or Guinea-Bissau and you own a little country house in the USA. You arrive and find the yard needs weeding. No surprise there. It’s one of the reasons you crossed the ocean: to weed the garden. The Best Neighbor in the World cuts the grass and trims around the edges when needed so the place does not look abandoned. He is a big, tall mountain man who keeps watch so baddies don’t break in, and he has a gun. This is, after all, the USA.

You get inside the house and all looks fine. No bugs, no smells, no dust, no problem.

No problem?

You are wrong. There are a number of problems. The battery in your car parked in the garage is dead. The TV doesn’t work. The land-line phone calls out but doesn’t receive. Your American cell phone receives but can’t call out. The water pressure is down to a dribble and reeks of rotten eggs (you have a well). You have no filters so you cannot change them in the filtering system to get the pressure back. There’s a wolf spider the size of Calcutta on the outside wall near the garage. There is no wine.

There is no wine!

You contemplate having a nervous breakdown. But since there is no one to witness your having a melt down, there is no point.

You take a deep breath and decide you can deal. You are an expat. You‘re used to living in Third World countries. But to your great relief your Internet works, somehow, and you’re online. You can communicate with your spousal unit, but he is not of much help toiling away 7 time zones later in another country.

The Best Neighbor in the World comes over and tells you not to worry about the spider because it’s harmless. He tries to jump start your car, but it’s really really dead, even though he’d started it not long ago and drove it around a bit so it wouldn’t feel neglected. He says he’ll go out the next day and buy you a new battery and put it in the car for you. How fabulous is that?

You decide to forget about dealing with the TV and phones until the next day. You’re jet lagged and all you want to do is crash and crawl in your own nice bed. Unfortunately you have to make it first, since last time you were there you didn’t want to leave it made up for 6 whole months. Who knows what might have crawled in between the sheets. A wolf spider maybe.


But before you crash, you want to take a shower, only the water pressure is not up to it. The water has always been problematic in this house.

It’s a tidy little house, built 5 years ago on virgin soil in the beautiful boonies aka countryside. Mother nature is generous and bountiful all around, with woods on two sides full of deer, rabbits, birds, squirrels, groundhogs, poison ivy and so on. We were even stalked by a pileated woodpecker a couple of years ago.

pileated woodpecker

(He has since moved across the road to the Best Neighbors in the World and is terrorizing them.)

Mother Nature has blessed you cursed you with virgin water from the bowels of the earth. It’s rich in iron, calcium, lime and sulfur. It stinks and its virgin color is orange. It passed water inspection and was deemed potable because there are no bacteria in it. The other stuff won’t kill you, or so you’re led to believe. Just the same, you installed a filtering system that is meant to deflower the virgin water and make it usable, rendering it clear and odorless. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work very well.

You take a bath by hunkering down in the tub and splashing water on you from the smelly dribbles that come out of the tap. This is the USA and you feel like you’re in a Third World country. Fortunately you’ve got lots of experience of this nature. You can deal.

You go to bed and don’t sleep well because you’re jet lagged and your Inner Clock is having a hissy fit. This is not good because you have so much to do. You need to go shopping for food. And wine. You need to get the TV and both phones working. You have to buy filters and get your water flowing again. You need to gather a load of documents to get your driver’s license renewed, which has to be done in person in your state. You have a dentist appointment and an eye appointment and you probably need a therapy appointment. And you need to weed the garden.

You need to weed the garden! You need to weed the garden!!

Besides that, more problems await you. Fortunately you don’t know this yet.

Okay, the “you” in this tale is me, Miss Footloose, and I will not bore you with the sorry saga of my struggles. Let me just say that in the next few days I do manage to make some headway on various fronts. Changing the water filters is a joy: The first one of the lot is slimy orange and beyond gross.

Renewing my driver’s license is a chore and it involves driving an hour to the bank to get documents out of the safety deposit box and another hour to take them home. Then when I finally get my license renewed, I have to make the trip again to return the documents to the bank.

Don’t talk to me about paperwork. I hate paperwork. I have paperwork on steroids. This is punishment because I didn’t stay put where God planted me, in Holland, along with the tulip bulbs. Instead I flew away to Africa to marry my American Peace Corps hero and now we are in possession of a funny-looking little marriage certificate nobody believes is real. Later I added American citizenship to the mix, which needed kilos of documentation. Trust me, you don’t want to see my papers – certified copies, internationally codified copies, notarized copies, original copies  . . . And they’re always somewhere where I’m not, it seems.

In the mean time I find that my health insurance card doesn’t work when I want to pay for a prescription, and the pharmacist tells me the insurance company says I’m not in the system. It will get resolved many hours later, but not before I go into full panic mode. This is, after all, the USA, and you don’t want to be without a health insurance card. That I can tell you. Believe me.

Finally I do get to do some weeding. The weather is gorgeous, the birds are chirping, the weeds are everywhere, and I actually enjoy being ruthless, decimating the ivy, chopping off small seedling trees and yanking out weeds. All the while soaking up the vitamin D3.

English Ivy

I make peace with my little house in the woods. The water flows again, the land line works, if not the cell phone (dead zone-what else?). And the Best Neighbors in the World invite me for a barbecue steak dinner before I leave again. This is, after all, the USA: A place with some really good people.

* * *

Ever been away from your house for a long time? What did you find on your return? Or, if you rented it out, what did the renters do to it?

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We own 2 properties in the UK. Our family home which we rent out for the past 7 years, sadly our first set of tenants stopped paying rent and trashed our house, requiring me to spend 4 months evicting them and restoring the property. The other property is a 1 bed flat that we stay in when we visit, that the 19 year old is currently occupying.

You crack me up. “You contemplate having a nervous breakdown. But since there is no one to witness your having a melt down, there is no point.” is my favorite line here, closely followed by “…certified copies, internationally codified copies, notarized copies, original copies . . . And they’re always somewhere where I’m not, it seems.” So true! At some point in time I had to deal with three different immigration services AT THE SAME TIME: American, to get our US citizenship, German, to retain our German citizenship (which believe it or not seemed harder then getting the American one),… Read more »

When we moved to Europe, we rented out our house in the US for four years before selling it. The first time we came back to visit after renting, we noticed a strange glow coming from the living room. It was a gigantic fish tank, positioned directly in front of the front door. Interesting decorating touch. But not as odd and hard to deal with as the two non-working refrigerators that they left in the basement when they moved out. Now we are in transition again and just had all of our furniture put into storage while we make up… Read more »


Moving around the world and live in different houses on this planet gives you a bit more worries, but also lots of fun. That is why we bought another (second) home in the south of France. With a huge garden. Let us say it will keep us fit.


When we moved to Mauritania in 2001, we sold everything but the kids, as you put it, and were happily homeless for 10 years. My husband did regret selling, since between 2001 and 2004 our old home quadrupled in value! But I can’t imagine what a nightmare it would have been dealing with stuff from Mauritania, which at the time barely had internet. We rented in Maur and would occasionally come back to the US for a summer. We’d return to a place reeking of dust, sometimes with doors swollen and no longer able to open. We often wouldn’t have… Read more »

(Ah, how I have missed coming here!) Our teenage daughter was the first one back to our house last a few springs ago, after it had been uninhabited for over a year. She found a LIVE CROW in the attic rooms upstairs. It had flown down a chimney, shat all over the place, and was mightily pissed off. She put on gardening gloves, managed to catch it, and released it. This is a kid who freaks out at simple bugs, so I was pretty proud and amazed she had that in her. I’m not sure how well I’d do with… Read more »


I love that even when you’re writing about the trouble and turmoil of expat life, you’re able to do it in a way that makes me crack up when I read it. Good luck with the house, the weeds, and the wine. THE WINE!

Hihi: “You contemplate having a nervous breakdown. But since there is no one to witness your having a melt down, there is no point.” 🙂

I once subletted my studio for what I thought would be a couple of months, but it turned into more than a year. When I unpacked my kitchenstuff I found some bags of… not-so-edible flour, beans, etc. Let’s say the mice had had a good year in my storage space!

We are moving across the world this summer and decided to sell up. Very happy with that decision too… it is just too much of a hassle to me to let the place. Funny us, we move around a lot, and then 2 years ago we decided to buy this house in the UK (where we had been around 3 years then, and we said we’d be there for 3 or 4, some good thinking, haha). And about a year after we signed the deal I got itchy feet again and now we are off.. Luckily we managed to sell… Read more »

We are moving across the world this summer and decided to sell up. Very happy with that decision too… it is just too much of a hassle to me to let the place. Funny us, we move around a lot, and then 2 years ago we decided to buy this house in the UK (where we had been around 3 years then, and we said we’d be there for 3 or 4, some good thinking, haha). And about a year after we signed the deal I got itchy feet again and now we are off.. Luckily we managed to sell… Read more »

The worst thing ever was when I returned from my two-week trip to Canada last year. Before I left I had three healthy cats, when I came back I had two healthy cats and one at death’s door. She passed the door several days after my return (cancer, so I had her euthanized). I think that was the worst ever, but then again, I never left my house for more than three weeks on the trot ever!

Well, after reading this, I think we did exactly the right thing in selling our house before we came to Turkey! we can always get another if we ever go back. Gardening is neither of our fortes and that spider…that spider!! 🙂


We just moved here to the UK from the USA last month. We sold our house and just about all our possessions. Thinking now we made the right move! We had fantastic neighbors there too….best in the world. Miss them and our friends very much. This is my first experience living outside my home state. I have all the expat blogs to thank for preparing me! Thank you for writing such a wonderful blog.


As of this month, it has been 5 years since I last left the United States. The last time I was there, it was to pack up or sell or give away everything that was in my house. The house has been rented since then, until last year anyway – at that point I said the heck with it and let the renter buy the place. It just wasn’t worth the hassle.

After reading this, I’m sure I made the right decision!

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